Good cooking is 80 per cent good shopping. Great grocers and markets are your support team, coach and personal trainers.

Terry Durack

Hold your food shops close: there may come a time when you will lose them. The owners will retire or the supermarket competition will get too much, and not even your constant loyalty and support can make it worth their while.

Then, that’s it. The end of the green tomatoes or the fat asparagus. The organic chicken or the smoked salmon. The Italian sausage the kids love or the cheese you give your dad on his birthday. The end of the discoveries, of spotting what’s new, of learning how to pronounce things.

Photo: Drew Aitken

My weekly treks to the long-gone Lygon Food Store in Carlton in the 1980s were revelatory, as a young, bright-eyed John Portelli insisted that everyone who walked in try the new gorgonzola dolce latte or cotognata (quince paste). His energy and enthusiasm moved on to the Di Santo family’s Enoteca Sileno, where they continued to elevate my cooking and eating.

It’s the closure of the current incarnation of the Enoteca Sileno, as John and Rosemary Portelli approach their 70s, that prompts this reflection.

Good cooking is 80 per cent good shopping. Great food shops and markets are your support team, coach and personal trainers, validating your choices and urging you on to greater heights with your plans for dinner.

Also in that team are specialist cookware stores and bookshops that care enough to maintain a great cookbook section.

It hurts when we lose one because our cooking possibilities shrink that little bit more and good things become harder to track down.

I still mourn the loss of the mighty little Canals fish shop in Melbourne (closed 2017), and Cyril’s Deli in Sydney’s Haymarket (2015).

But we still have so much. In Sydney, we have Tokyo Mart in Northbridge for all things Japanese, and Pino’s Dolce Vita in Kogarah for all things Italian.

In Melbourne, I’m thankful for Anthony Femia’s Maker & Monger at Prahran Market and the Spanish La Central at South Melbourne Market.

I’m grateful, in fact, for all the shops at all the markets run by passionate people whose food matches their knowledge.

Have a think about your favourite food shop and the last time you were there. If it wasn’t in the past six months, then good luck. Perhaps you should go and throw some money at it right now.

The best recipes from Australia’s leading chefs straight to your inbox.

Sign up

Terry DurackTerry Durack is the chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and Good Food.

From our partners